Max Lobe in conversation

Max Lobe in conversation

February 2023

Max Lobe came to London and Brighton at the end of February 2023 to promote his newly translated novel Does Snow Turn a Person White Inside? (La Trinité bantoue). We took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about this high-altitude gay romance and moving account of the immigrant experience.

Born in 1986 in Douala, Max Lobe is a Swiss-Cameroonian novelist, short story writer and poet. Among the topics which transcend his work, Black African homosexuality, migration and post-colonial studies are recurrent. At eighteen he moved to Switzerland where he obtained a BA in Communication and Journalism (Lugano) and a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration (Lausanne).

In 2017, his novel Confidences on Cameroon’s war of independence won the Ahmadou Kourouma Prize. Other books by the author include 39 rue de Berne, La Trinité bantoue, and La Promesse de Sa Phall’Excellence (Jan 2021), a burlesque, fantastic and erotic novel on tyranny. All his books are published in French by Editions Zoé in Geneva.

Inspired by both the traditions of Black African literature and folk tales and by the realities of the immigrant experience in Switzerland, Max Lobe’s work stands out for its vibrant, accessible depictions of his characters’ lives. Tackling serious and important issues such as homophobia, religion, violence and the plight of undocumented migrants, Lobe’s narrators are sparky and unpretentious, full of life and humour. His books are light and readable, and at the same time deeply serious and important. They have a wide and enduring appeal.

 In 2019 Max Lobe founded the association GenevAfrica,whose role is to build bridges between African and Swiss authors.

 We were pleased to welcome Max Lobe to the Swiss Embassy in the UK and took the opportunity to ask him a few questions.


Can you please introduce yourself in a few words?

A big question, you know. People know me as Max Lobe. This is how I introduce myself to them. I was born in Cameroon, in Douala. Then one day, I moved to Switzerland. I learned Italian. I studied Communication Sciences and Journalism. Mostly Communication Sciences, that means philosophy, history, and rhetoric. Then I moved to Lausanne. There, I became Max Lobe, the author. Swiss author. Today, among many things I do, I write books, novels, and loads of short novels. I’ve been applying my vision of how the world can be with my project GenevAfrica. People should come back to the table and talk. Writing each other's letters, visiting each other's countries, South, North, to make it fluid. This is who I am.

La Trinité bantoue, published in 2014 in French, has recently been translated into English and published by HopeRoad with the title Can snow turn a person white inside? Are there any obstacles or challenges when it comes to translating not only a story but an experience into another language?

This book has also been translated into Ukrainian! The title in English speaks to me. It’s a question. And I don’t have the answer. Am I White? Am I Black? What does that mean to be Black? I am Black. But it’s not just a matter of skin colour. There’s much more behind that. There’s a story. History. A long story. I am still writing that story today. The same fights. The same wounds.

The real question is what is it like to be White?

So yes, there are challenges when it comes to translation. Once I say something, I am already lying. The real truth is in my brain. All the rest is a lie. How do you want to translate feelings? Ask Ros Schwarz (English translator). She certainly knows that better than me.

You often describe not only places but atmospheres. How can you succeed in calling on the reader’s visual imagination?

This is precisely what I meant in my previous answer. The atmosphere in my mind is much bigger. I share it with my readers. My memories. The nose. The tongue. Our eyes enlighten our inside, the memory I have of my story. Things I saw. How it felt to be loved, my relationship with labour, with my mother, religion, always religion, there’s a special atmosphere in the Bible. My relationship to Switzerland, I am Swiss, from Geneva. (LOL!)

As a young Cameroonian who started his gay life in Switzerland, I have loads of pictures in mind, an old woman begging in a street, in the wind, it’s cold, a topless little girl running in dust, a stray dog after her, wiggling his tail, an atmosphere, I mean, it’s important to bring people into my atmospheres, to share the pictures I have in my mind. The colours won’t be exactly the same, it’s just impossible, but as an author, I try my best to share that visual imagination.